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L 3 R A R V
Leaflet No. 410
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
By H. A. Schoth,
agronomist, Field Crops Research Branch,
Growing root crops as feed for livestock and poultry is relatively
unimportant in the United States. However, small acreages of root
crops for livestock feeding purposes will probably continue to be
grown. Farmers who have only a few head of livestock and con-
sequently cannot afford the use of a silo may find it advantageous to
supply the succulence needed for winter feeding by growing root crops.
Breeders of purebred livestock, and especially exhibitors, prize root
crops as excellent conditioners for their animals. Moreover, the roots
can be stored and transported under conditions impossible with silage.
One of the principal reasons for the small acreage planted to root
crops is the amount of hand labor required to produce this feed. Until
1935 the more humid areas of the Pacific Northwest produced sizable
tonnages. By 1955 production in this section had dwindled to the point
where only occasional small acreages of root crops were grown — usualty
for some special purpose.
Root crop production in the United States for feed consists mainly
of mangels, rutabagas or Swedes, turnips, and carrots.
To a large extent silage and improved pastures have replaced root
crops in areas where root crops were grown for winter and early
spring succulent livestock feeds. Improved techniques in making
silage permit the use of crops other than corn for silage. Also, silage
of good quality and high feed value can be made from practically any
field crop or pasture plant. As a result, use of silage has developed
Improved pastures are producing increased yields of higher quality
forage. New varieties of forage plants extend the period for pas-
turing. The cost per unit of digestible matter is decreasing as better
management practices for pastures are developed, better fertilizing
programs are used, improved plants are becoming available, and in-
creased use of irrigation is practiced wherever feasible.
In a greater part of the United States, corn will produce a larger
tonnage of succulence in the form of silage than can be obtained from
root crops. The same situation prevails in many places where grasses
and legumes are now extensively used for silage. While perhaps the
actual nutritive value of silage made from miscellaneous plant ma-
terials is not so high as that from well-grown and properly eared for
root crops, the cost of producing the silage in proportion to the feed
value is much less than for the root crops. Also, silage has a year-
round feeding possibility ; whereas, roots, except under the best storage
facilities, can be kept for perhaps 6 months.
CLIMATIC AND SOIL REQUIREMENTS
A cool, moist climate is most favorable for root crop production.
Dryland farming conditions in the northern Great Plains produce
satisfactory yields if special attention is given to soil preparation and
plant spacing to reduce soil moisture loss.
Deep, fertile, well-drained loam soils usually give, highest yields.
Soils that are good for corn, potatoes, sugar beets, and medium- to
deep-rooted legumes are generally satisfactory. The diked and beaver-
dam lands of the Pacific Xorthwest are nearly ideal and produce heavy
yields of root crops.
The varieties grown are mostly of European stock. Most of the
seed is produced in Europe.
The more common varieties of mangels include Golden Tankard.
Half Sugar. Mammoth Long Red, Danish Sludstrup, Red Inter-
mediate, Red Eckendorf, Yellow Eckendorf. and Heavy Cropper or
Varieties of rutabagas include American Purple Top, Hurst Mon-
arch, Bangholm, and Improved Purple Top.
Xumerous varieties of turnips are grown for livestock feed. The
more common varieties include Purple Top White Globe, Bortfield.
Cowhorn. White Pomeranian, White Top Aberdeen, and Green Top
Both white- and yellow-fleshed carrots are grown. The most com-
mon white-fleshed variety is White Belgian. The most common
yellow-fleshed varieties are Chantenay, Danvers, Mastadon, Oxheart.
Improved Long Orange, and Giant Yellow.
On deeper soils the longer rooted Mammoth Long Red mangels and
White Belgian carrots are desirable, so as to obtain highest yields.
Other varieties of mangels and carrots and other root crops, while
well adapted to deeper soils, are more satisfactory for soils that are
A fine, relatively firm seedbed is needed for root crops. It is best
to plow at a time when the soil will crumble easily. Preparation to
reduce possible weed populations to a minimum before planting is very
desirable. In dryland areas, the seedbed should be prepared so that a
high percentage of moisture is retained to insure rapid seed germi-
nation and seedling growth, as well as good later growth.
409014°— 57 3
An abundance of readily available plant food is essential for most
satisfactory production of root crops. Where plant food is not present
naturally, barnyard manure or commercial fertilizer, either alone or
in combination, should be used. A complete commercial fertilizer,
such as 4-16-4 or 4^16-8, is often applied at the rate of 400 to 700
pounds per acre. Use of manure at the rate of 20 tons per acre, supple-
mented with 300 to 400 pounds of superphosphate, will usually result
in good yields. Manure should be reasonably well rotted and applied
before plowing. Commercial fertilizers are applied just before final
seedbed completion and disked in lightly.
Root crops produce best on soils that are near neutral or neutral in
reaction. Lime should be applied in quantities large enough to reduce
the acidity to at least the neutral point.
TIME OF SEEDING
Mangels and carrots require a long growing season. Mangels should
be sown as soon as danger of frost is past and a good seedbed can be
prepared. In the Xorth this will be about the time of planting corn.
Carrots are usually sown after the soil becomes sufficiently warm to
insure rapid seed germination.
The time of sowing rutabagas and turnips will depend somewhat
on the time they are desired for feeding. For late summer or early
fall feed, early sowing is desirable. For feed in late fall or for storing,
sowing can be as late as early June. Occasionally in mild winter
climate areas, early fall seedings of rutabagas or turnips are made
for use in late winter or early spring.
In some places early spring seedings of root crops are severely dam-
aged by aphids or by root maggots. Where these pests occur, sowing
should be delayed until the season for such damage is past.
Where soil moisture may be a limiting factor in production, early
spring seedings are usually recommended; plants then become well
established and get full benefits from all available moisture.
RATE OF SEEDING
Seeding rates depend on methods of seeding. When seeded in rows
30 to 36 inches apart, 6 to 8 pounds of seed per acre is needed for
mangels; iy 2 to k 2 pounds for carrots; and 1 pound for rutabagas or
turnips. Turnips are sometimes seeded broadcast at the rate of 4 to 5
pounds of seed per acre.
METHOD OF SEEDING
The largest yields of root crops are usually obtained when the seed
is sown by planter in cultivated rows. Distances between rows depend
to a considerable extent on soil and moisture conditions and the culti-
vating equipment. Distances between rows may vary from 18 to 36
inches. Hand seeders or small drill seeders will provide evener seed
distribution at a uniform depth and reasonable assurance that the seed
is well covered and in contact with moisture. Seeding depth for
mangels should be from y 2 to % inch ; for carrots, y± to y 2 inch ; and
for rutabagas or turnips, y 2 inch.
Frequent and thorough cultivations to maintain a loose surface
mulch, to conserve moisture, and to check weed growth are essential
for success in growing root crops. Recent developments in the use of
chemicals to reduce or prevent weed growth indicate that weed killers
may be used to advantage on some occasions. The chemicals used
should be those that cause the minimum possible damage to the crops.
Manufacturer's instructions on the amount to be used for the control
of weeds on the root crop should be followed closely.
To develop normal roots, thinning may be necessary where stands
of plants are thick. Plants should be evenly spaced in the row with
enough distance between them to allow for fullest root growth.
Thinning is more essential for mangels than for turnips or carrots.
Mechanical or hand thinning is practiced, depending on the size of
the planting, facilities available, and extent of thinning needed.
HARVESTING AND STORAGE
Root crops are harvested before severe frosts occur or when leave>
yellow and wither, which is an indication of maturity. As they cannot
stand severe frosts, mangels and carrots are usually harvested earlier
than rutabagas and turnips. When harvesting roots for storage, care
should be taken to prevent cutting or bruising, in order to reduce
possible losses from storage diseases. For best storage the roots should
be free from soil and reasonably dry when put into storage. Xo leaf
growth should remain. It is preferable to remove leaves by hand. If
a cutter is used to remove leaves, it often cuts or bruises the roots.
Mangels, rutabagas, and carrots generally store better than turnip-,
especially for long periods. Storage should be in an easily accessible
location that is reasonably well ventilated and frostproof (fig. 1).
Preferable temperature range is from 36° to 40° F. Storage may be
in buildinjrs or in outside pits. Pits are usually not so satisfactorv
Figure 1. — Roots piled in pit and being covered with straw before covering with
soil for winter storage. Note installation of ventilators. (Courtesy John
Jacob Astor Experiment Station, Astoria, ( )reg. )
or convenient as inside storage facilities. Pits should be on well-
drained sites and free from leaks on the cover. Insulation such as
straw or sod covered with 6 inches of soil will protect roots in the pit
COST OF PRODUCTION
The cost of producing root crops fluctuates from year to year and
varies widely in different parts of the United States. Since much
hand labor is required in producing the crop, the total cost is influenced
largely by the prevailing wage. Except for harvesting and fertilizers,
it costs very little more to produce a good crop than a poor one;
therefore, in those sections where large yields are usual, the cost of
producing a ton of roots is relatively low. Rutabagas and turnips
usually cost 15 to 20 percent less to produce than mangels. Carrots
are probably the most costly of the root crops per ton to grow.
Yields of root crops vary with the climate, soil fertility, moisture
supply, and other factors. Mangels usually produce a greater tonnage
per acre than other root crops. Sometimes, where the summers are
short and cool and the moisture abundant, rutabagas and turnips
produce greater yields than mangels.
Under favorable conditions, such as in the Pacific Xortlrwest,
mangels, rutabagas, and turnips yield 20 to 40 tons per acre. Carrots
under similar conditions produce about half this amount. In the
northern Great Plains where the moisture supply is limited, mangels,
rutabagas, and turnips yield 5 to 10 tons per acre and carrots 2 to 4
tons per acre.
INSECT PESTS *
Insects seldom damage mangels and carrots seriously, although
occasionally cutworms destroy a stand to such an extent as to neces-
sitate reseeding. Grasshoppers, aphids, flea bettles, cabbage worms,
and root maggots are sometimes quite destructive, especially to ruta-
bagas and turnips. The information available for the control of such
insects as pests of garden root crops can often be adapted for the con-
trol of these pests on similar root crops grown for livestock. Crop
rotation and clean farming usually reduce insect damage. For some
crops, especially rutabagas and turnips, seeding at a time when insects
are least likely to be prevalent in destructive numbers prevents
Root crops in general are comparatively free from very destructive
diseases. Mangels are sometimes attacked by dry rot, but this disease
usually does not cause serious damage. A bacterial rot is sometimes
quite destructive in turnips. Rutabagas and carrots seldom suffer seri-
ously from disease attacks. When diseases appear, however, rotation
of crops is the most practical means of control.
1 Contributed by the Entomology Research Branch.
Turnips are likely to decay rapidly in storage. Decay losses are not
usually serious with carrots, rutabagas, and mangels if stored under
Eoot crops should be classed as highly diluted concentrates rather
than as roughages. Excessive feeding may overload the digestive
organs of livestock and cause indigestion, on account of the high
water content of the roots. Ordinarily, the limit is 3 to 5 pounds of
roots per 100 pounds live weight daily. Only half that amount is
recommended when the roots are fed as a source of succulence and an
appetizer and not as an important source of nutrients.
As a class, roots are deficient in protein, fat, calcium, and
phosphorous. With the exception of carrots they are relatively de-
ficient in vitamin A, but all the root crops are a fair source of other
It takes approximately 8 to 10 pounds of roots to equal 1 pound
of grain. In large quantities it takes iy 2 to 2 pounds of roots to
equal a pound of corn silage, as the roots have a higher water content.
When fed in small quantities as an appetizer a pound of roots is usually
equal to a pound of silage.
When first harvested root crops have a laxative effect, which dis-
appears to a large extent after they have been stored a few weeks.
In general, wherever starch concentrates such as corn and barley
can readily be produced at a lower cost per unit of dry matter than
root crops, the value of root crops in livestock feeding is limited to
the feeding of small quantities. The addition of 1 to 2 pounds of
roots per 100 pounds live weight daily provides a source of succulence
and an appetizer in the ration. Throughout most of the United
States, corn, sorgo, grain sorghum, and grass or grass-legume silages
are cheaper sources of succulence than root crops when the number of
livestock is large enough to consume 50 tons or more of silage during
a period of 3 to 4 months. These limitations vary considerably with
the kind and quality of silage, type of silo, and weather conditions.
When roots are fed whole, there is danger of animals choking.
Cutting the roots is preferable for older animals with poor teeth.
Removal of excess soil before feeding is desirable. Cooking or steam-
ing the roots is a waste of labor and is expensive; it decreases instead
of increases the feed value by dsetroying some of the vitamins.
Root Crops for Cattle
It is rarely profitable in the United States to raise root crops for
maintaining or fattening cattle. Turnips and carrots that are of little
value for marketing as food can be fed to good advantage.
For cows giving milk, roots are especially valuable. A small
quantity of roots may often improve a ration containing liberal
quantities of grain, legume hay, and silage. Carrots may be fed to
cows at 35 to 45 pounds per head, and mangels at the rate of 40 to 60
pounds daily. Mangels are less likely to taint milk than are rutabagas
and turnips. Rutabagas and turnips should be fed after milking or at
noon to avoid tainting the milk.
Turnips are more watery than most roots and are fed principally
to cattle and sheep in the fall. Some dairymen feed the whole turnip
plant because they believe that, pound for pound, the tops are nearly
equal to the roots in nutritive value.
Root Crops for Sheep
In general root crops are not an economical source of nutrients
for sheep. In most cases silage is a more satisfactory source of suc-
culence. Experiments have shown that iy 2 pounds of roots is equal
to approximately 1 pound of corn silage.
The favorite roots for sheep are rutabagas and mangels, although
White Belgian carrots may be fed to ewes at 2 to 5 pounds per head,
and turnips are also fed during the fall season.
Root Crops for Horses
Roots are used principally for horses as an aid to digestion. Where
roots are fed, other laxative feeds should be omitted, the roughage
supply decreased, and the grain ration should contain feeds high in
Carrots rank first among root crops as horse feed. They are ex-
ceptionally good for colts, brood mares, stallions, idle work horses,
and horses that are to be exhibited. Usually the quantity fed should
not exceed 10 pounds per head daily. Chopping the roots is usually
advisable. Care must be taken in feeding mangels to horses to avoid
Root Crops for Hogs
Roots have little value in the ration for hogs under ordinary farm
conditions when good rations of concentrates are being fed. Experi-
mental work indicates that it takes nearly 600 pounds of roots to
replace 100 pounds of grain. Usually more satisfactory results are
obtained by feeding leafy legume hay.
Mangels are consumed with the greatest relish by hogs, although
mangels, rutabagas, and carrots are considered practically equal in
nutritive value. Turnips are not a desirable hog feed.
Root Crops for Poultry
Although mangels and carrots provide some succulence, they are
not a satisfactory substitute for green feed for poultry. Rutabagas
and turnips may be fed, but they are not so good as mangels or many
other succulent feeds. As carrots are relatively rich in vitamin A,
they are considered the best roots for poultry. Roots should be fed
whole ; some poultrymen split the larger roots.
This leaflet supersedes Farmers' Bulletin 1699, Growing Root Crops for
Washington, D. C. Issued March 1957
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office,
Washington 25, D. C. Price 5 cents